Betting on Solid Returns at This Month's K/BIS

We've chanced highways and ventured airports to make the journey. Like the Siren to Homer's Odysseus, we are drawn to Las Vegas: to listen to the choir of coins, to float below the alluring lights, to cruise the canals and navigate the monuments rising from the desert. We come there to turn the cards, to roll the dice, to spin the wheel, to let it ride. We may even be bold enough to chance a little work, too.

That's precisely the case this month, as the 2005 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show comes to town.

You know, trade shows are demanding enough without all the temptations of Las Vegas - so this year, more than most, we need to be sharp and organized in how we work K/BIS.

K/BIS is one of the most promising and profitable times of the year for my business, and I plan to make the most of it. Unlike Odysseus, I'm not tying myself to the mast to resist the Siren's call; rather, I'm simply preparing to work smarter and more efficiently.

To work shows smart and efficiently, I've always placed a tremendous amount of emphasis on organization, especially prior to the show. All attendees have meetings, seminars, breakfasts, lunches and dinners to attend. Our schedules quickly fill up, leaving very little time to improvise. These commitments are all important, but take large chunks of our valuable time away.

I do my best to schedule meetings and events prior to arrival at the show. Before the days of the PDA, I use to carry a three- to five-day schedule in my briefcase to keep everything organized. Setting appointments prior to the show allows me not only to be organized, but gives me the best chance to block out time on my clients' or associates' schedules. After all, they're at least as busy as I am.

If it's important to meet with a specific person at the show, I lock them up early. If I try to play the old "we'll stop by the booth or we'll catch up with you later" game, it will surely turn into the "sorry we missed you but we got caught up somewhere else" routine.

One of the perks of being a rep is that my manufacturer's badge gives me access to show halls before they're open to attendees. I take advantage of this by sometimes walking the show the day prior to it opening, or an hour or two before the show opens in the mornings.

Since almost every minute of my time is spoken for during show hours, I use this time to see who's who and what's what. I take notes on what I find interesting and want to learn more about. That way, when the show opens and I can find a free moment, I already know where I want to spend the limited amount of free time I have.

Most K/BIS attendees don't have the benefit of early access to the show floor, but there are certainly other ways to accomplish this.

One dealer I know spends the first day of the show simply walking it from beginning to end, taking notes on the products he finds interesting and wants to spend more time learning about. That evening, he maps these products out and notes where he can most benefit spending his time over the final two days. By doing so, he ensures that he sees everything while emphasizing quality time with items that he deems especially important to his business. There is so much to see in relatively few hours, we all need to utilize our hours to the fullest.

As a rep, I meet a tremendous number of people each day of the show. It often seems that every one of them needs something from me as soon as I get back to my office. Phone calls, faxes, e-mails and meetings all result from these meetings. I take this very seriously because I consider these my returns - or "winnings" - from the show.

It's important to me that each of these responsibilities be accomplished when and how they were requested. A little trick I use to ensure that I follow up properly is to ask each person I meet for their business card. Then I write exactly what must be done on the card. Each evening before I go to dinner (I make sure I do it before I go out), I take that day's stack of cards and record everything written on them; either on my PDA or on a written "to-do" list. I list them for each day they need to be accomplished.

The list is enormous for my first day back from the show, but by having it, I can ensure that I follow through with my promises. The show is a waste of my time if I don't follow through on promises and opportunities.

I also create a quick "to-do" list to carry in my shirt pocket the next day. On it, I write phones calls that need to be returned immediately, notes to keep in mind and other miscellaneous items that I need to have handy.

This year, it will be even more important than most to do this, because the show is in the middle of the work week. As much as I'd like to think that the entire kitchen and bath industry will be at the show, the reality is they won't - and work will still need to be done back in my territory.

Working West Coast events is quite advantageous for East Coasters because if we're willing to get up a little earlier, we can actually return phone calls and keep up with our businesses, plus have time to concentrate on the show.

There are other ways to increase business opportunities at the show beyond simply staying organized.

I look beyond doing business in the booths. For example, I pay attention to the names on the badges of the people sitting next to me on the show shuttles and monorail. I sit with people that I don't know at functions I attend. I'll even strike up conversations with people on food lines.

These are all opportunities to network, and I just may stumble upon something that will benefit me and my business. I know a dealer who has sold millions of dollars worth of a certain cabinet line all because he sat next to the owner of the cabinet company on a shuttle years ago. A member our company once closed a sale at a bank of pay phones after loaning someone a pen.

To a great extent, business is done outside the booths at a show like K/BIS. You just need to be open to the opportunities.

Well, it's almost Vegas time. I'm going to enjoy the lights, turn a card and throw the dice. But more importantly I'm going to let it ride on my surest bet - working intelligently and efficiently to earn the full promise and profit of this year's K/BIS.

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This article originally appeared in Kitchen and Bath Design News 5/2005

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